100 books like You Can't Make This Stuff Up

By Lee Gutkind,

Here are 100 books that You Can't Make This Stuff Up fans have personally recommended if you like You Can't Make This Stuff Up. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

Kendra Allen Author Of The Collection Plate: Poems

From my list on finding inspiration and motivation.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a person who reads solely for pleasure regardless of research, I make it a mission while writing to read books I actually enjoy on topics I wanna learn more about. I chose the books on this list because I’m also a person who reads multiple books at once in various genres, it keeps me honest; aware of holes and discrepancies in my own work and pushes me towards some semblance of completion. All the writers on this list do multiple things at once and I admire their skill and risk in coupling creativity with clarity.

Kendra's book list on finding inspiration and motivation

Kendra Allen Why did Kendra love this book?

Sometimes I need a book that will inspire me not to continue writing, but to start; kinda like when I binge watch YouTube book talks—that’s the feeling this book brings over me—inspired. It’s a book that helps me write anything because I’m a person who struggles with—yet craves the ability to— strip a piece as bare as possible. Strip a story of its fluff and dissect its roots. I need to know what to save for later, and Gornick expressing the difference between situation and story is something I always go back to in order to help declutter my work. 

By Vivian Gornick,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Situation and the Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A guide to the art of personal writing, by the author of Fierce Attachments and The End of the Novel of Love

All narrative writing must pull from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver a bit of wisdom. In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth.

How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal…


Book cover of Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

Dinty W. Moore Author Of Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction

From my list on for essayists and memoirists.

Why am I passionate about this?

Dinty W. Moore is the author of the writing guides The Story Cure, Crafting the Personal Essay, and The Mindful Writer, among many other books. He has published essays and stories in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Southern Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere, and has taught master classes and workshops on memoir and essay writing across the United States as well as in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico.

Dinty's book list on for essayists and memoirists

Dinty W. Moore Why did Dinty love this book?

A friendly and accessible guide for anyone wanting to tell their own life story, Fearless Confessions looks at several craft issues in writing – plot, style, voice, point-of-view, metaphor, language – as well as marketing, and ethics. Silverman’s exceptional book offers also provides insight from her own writing journey, useful writing exercises, a helpful discussion of nonfiction sub-genres, and a valuable “Reading List of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction.” A welcoming and supportive text packed with nuggets of pure wisdom.

By Sue William Silverman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fearless Confessions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title shows how to craft compelling art out of personal experience. Everyone has a story to tell. ""Fearless Confessions"" is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper - or in a Web site or e-book. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers. The rise of interest in memoir recognizes the power of the genre to…


Book cover of A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

Dinty W. Moore Author Of Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction

From my list on for essayists and memoirists.

Why am I passionate about this?

Dinty W. Moore is the author of the writing guides The Story Cure, Crafting the Personal Essay, and The Mindful Writer, among many other books. He has published essays and stories in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Southern Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere, and has taught master classes and workshops on memoir and essay writing across the United States as well as in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico.

Dinty's book list on for essayists and memoirists

Dinty W. Moore Why did Dinty love this book?

Master teacher David Mura’s A Stranger's Journey addresses long-overlooked issues of race and identity in publishing and in the standard teaching of creative writing and he brilliantly advocates for a more inclusive and expansive definition of writing craft. Though this book is partly aimed at educators, he offers incredibly useful craft lessons as well, primarily through his deft analysis of work done by writers ranging from James Baldwin to Mary Karr to ZZ Packer. In a world that no longer accepts the notion that our greatest authors have to be “dead white men,” Mura offers a necessary window into the intersection of race, literature, and culture.

By David Mura,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Stranger's Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Long recognized as a master teacher at writing programs like VONA, the Loft, and the Stonecoast MFA, with A Stranger's Journey, David Mura has written a book on creative writing that addresses our increasingly diverse American literature. Mura argues for a more inclusive and expansive definition of craft, particularly in relationship to race, even as he elucidates timeless rules of narrative construction in fiction and memoir. His essays offer technique-focused readings of writers such as Junot Diaz, ZZ Packer, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mary Karr, and Sherman Alexie, while making compelling connections to Mura's own life and work as a Japanese…


Book cover of The Art of Memoir

Helena de Bres Author Of Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir

From my list on to read if you're thinking of writing a memoir.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a philosophy professor who started writing memoir in her mid-thirties. I love the similarities and the differences between memoir and philosophy (to sum it up: both are ways of making sense of your experience, but memoirists are allowed to tell stories, make jokes and break your heart.) On the trail of my obsession with the two, I’ve written a book on the philosophy of memoir and a memoir about philosophy. My sister calls them “your weird book twins.” Whatever! The whole experience has felt like falling in love, and I now want to encourage everyone to give personal writing a shot. 

Helena's book list on to read if you're thinking of writing a memoir

Helena de Bres Why did Helena love this book?

This book is a blast to read and also packed with insight (the Holy Grail, no?) It’s a collection of short chapters on a wide range of questions that either a baby or seasoned memoirist might ask. How do I find my voice? How do I organize my material? Am I betraying my family? (When Karr asked her own mom if she minded being outed as a knife-wielding alcoholic who set her children’s toys on fire, Mrs. Karr apparently replied: “Oh hell, the whole town knew about that.”) Karr draws on her extensive experience as a best-selling memoirist and teacher of memoir, serving up hard-won wisdom and concrete practical advice. Reading The Art of Memoir is like trapping a celebrity genius in a hotel bar and getting the unvarnished version. You’ll love it.

By Mary Karr,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr's The Liars' Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well. For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse. (The writing program there produced such acclaimed authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas.) In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and "black belt sinner," providing a unique window…


Book cover of Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

Catherine Maiorisi Author Of A Matter of Blood

From my list on mysteries that feature two detectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli Mystery series featuring Corelli and her partner Detective P.J. Parker. Most mysteries have a single main character so I’m passionate about finding other authors who write mysteries with two professional investigators as main characters. It’s fascinating to see how authors writing the same type of characters handle them and what they do about character growth over the course of the series. To me, watching two characters react to each other, seeing their relationship change over the course of a book or a series is much more interesting than reading about a single detective.

Catherine's book list on mysteries that feature two detectives

Catherine Maiorisi Why did Catherine love this book?

When I sat down to write my first novel I knew I wanted to model my characters on George’s Lynley and Havers but I couldn’t even start writing because I had no idea how to structure a novel, particularly a mystery. As fate would have it, George released her book on writing, Write Away, around that time. In it, she described her process with examples from her own books and it was exactly what I needed. This book provided the essential tools I needed to write. 

By Elizabeth George,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Write Away as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth George is one of the most successful writers of crime fiction in the world. Her twelve novels have appeared on bestseller lists in the UK, USA and Australia, and several of them have been dramatised by BBC Television as the Inspector Lynley Mysteries. She has also written a collection of short stories and edited a crime anthology.

Now she shares this wealth of experience with would-be novelists, and with crime fiction fans. Drawing extensively on her own work, and that of other bestselling writers including Stephen King, Harper Lee, Dennis Lehane and many others, she illustrates her points about…


Book cover of Writing What You Know: How to Turn Personal Experiences Into Publishable Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry

Marge Pellegrino Author Of Neon Words: 10 Brilliant Ways to Light Up Your Writing

From my list on creative jump starts whatever your medium.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I loved how words on a page transported me. Later, I was astounded by how the words I wrote myself could help me solve problems, deepen my understanding, and expand my thinking. Over time, that writing offered clarity and built my confidence. And in my most challenging times, writing has saved me over and over again. Learning to observe like a writer or an artist continues to help me be more present in my life. Sharing expressive writing experiences with others, during a 35-year career as a writer and workshop facilitator, allowed me to witness how this creative engagement offers a respite while building resilience and joy in others too.

Marge's book list on creative jump starts whatever your medium

Marge Pellegrino Why did Marge love this book?

We’ve all got one of those life stories that we end up telling over and over again. Research has confirmed that those stories hold power. Meg Files in Writing What You Know offers us a path to transform those stories from the telling onto the page, and just maybe into the larger world. I credit Files’ workshops for helping me refine work that was later published. While you might notice that she draws on her teaching, conference creating, and publishing experience, she also writes with the voice of a supportive, nurturing friend. She reminds us not to be too self-critical, gives us the questions to get started, and challenges us with many opportunities to be “Jumping into the Abyss.”

By Meg Files,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing What You Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's easy for people to write about their feelings in a journal. It's more difficult, however, to convert personal experiences into stories worthy of publication fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. Filled with engaging exercises, Write from Life guides writers in identifying story-worthy material and transforming their raw material into finished pieces, through conquering fears associated with personal exposure, determining a story's focus, shaping the material into a cohesive whole, and editing and revising as needed. Writers working in any form will find this book invaluable for supplying them with the inspiration and practical instruction they need to get their experiences and…


Book cover of Writing the Natural Way: Turn the Task of Writing Into the Joy of Writing

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer Author Of Writing Through the Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence

From my list on to get you writing.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a published author with an MFA in Writing, I know how hard writing can be in terms of how to find a muse, employ an elusive craft, and deal with the soul-shaking consequences of digging deep. But as a survivor of life, including multiple moves, broken relationships, alcoholism, illness, and debilitating grief, I've also experienced the transformative power of writing. I took that belief into the community, and developed writing workshops for cancer survivors, women facing domestic violence, and many other people wrestling with trauma and illness, often recommending some of these books in my workshops. And along the way, I’ve witnessed time and again what the written word can do. 

G.'s book list on to get you writing

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer Why did G. love this book?

Writing professor Gabriele Rico knows how to take the fear out of writing, which is why this book became such a powerful best-seller and why I love to read and recommend it. Among the many strategies and techniques she offers in Writing the Natural Way, one of my favorites is her brainstorming strategy called clustering, which gives us permission to wander and bypass the critical censorship we are often hindered by. In turn, this fuels creativity and prompts us to make associations among ideas, memories, and feelings that are otherwise seemingly diverse or disorganized. She also firmly believes that, although writing can be a painful process, it’s not what hurts us that matters but rather it’s how we deal with the pain, and it’s through an honest expression of our truth that we can grow and heal.

By Gabriele Lusser Rico,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing the Natural Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shows all writers how effective writing can be as natural as telling a story to a friend, and as easy as daydreaming.


Book cover of How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America

Peter Lovesey Author Of The Last Detective

From my list on the secrets of great mystery writing.

Why am I passionate about this?

My introduction to mystery writing was a competition for a first crime novel. I was lucky enough to win with Wobble to Death, about a Victorian long-distance race. When I went to collect the prize, I was startled to be asked if I was already at work on the next one. The publishers Macmillan had started a crime list and were looking for a career writer. I knew practically nothing about the genre and had to give myself a crash course. How I needed the support of books like these! After five years, I had the confidence to give up the day job and have made my living from mystery writing for almost fifty years. 

Peter's book list on the secrets of great mystery writing

Peter Lovesey Why did Peter love this book?

Although I’m a Brit, I joined the Mystery Writers of America early in my career and benefited enormously from the friendships I made. This newly published volume is a virtual encyclopedia of the advice their experts are willing to share. With more than seventy contributors, it covers the field and more, including mysteries for children, graphic novels, and true crime. None of it is treated as gospel. I laughed out loud when I found the chapter "Always Outline" by Jeffery Deaver, followed by "Never Outline" by Lee Child. Even the follow-up process of reaching out to readers is explained in "Building Your Community" by Louise Penny. This is a must-visit workshop for anyone serious about the craft.

By Mystery Writers of America,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Write a Mystery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the most successful mystery writers in the business, an invaluable guide to crafting mysteries-from character development and plot to procedurals and thrillers-a must-have for every aspiring mystery writer.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is known for providing unparalleled resources on the craft, art, and business of storytelling, helping writers of all levels improve their skills for nearly a century. Now, this new handbook helps authors navigate the ever-shifting publishing landscape-from pacing, plotting, the business side of publishing, to the current demand for diversity and inclusivity across all genres, and more.

Featuring essays by a new generation of bestselling experts…


Book cover of Sing Me the Creation: Creative Writing Sourcebook

Leon Conrad Author Of Story and Structure: A complete guide

From my list on writing without killing creativity.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a writer, I love words and am continuously fascinated by the way they work. In terms of writing manuals, I particularly value the work of writers who combine knowledge and understanding of writing techniques while also providing inspiration and keys to freeing the imagination. I’ve found these books brilliantly complement my professional interest in story structure and how story works, and match my own approach to combining theory with practice; craft with art in my work on story. I hope you find they inspire creativity in you, too.

Leon's book list on writing without killing creativity

Leon Conrad Why did Leon love this book?

I picked up this book as the title sounded interesting, but it sat on my bookshelves for over five years before I delved into it. Since then, it’s become one of my favourite guides to writing. It’s described as ‘probably the most unusual guidebook for creative writing in the world.’ It’s full of insights such as ‘grammar is a mapping of the human soul,’ or ‘the social word… is serious play.’ The play takes place in a field with the four ‘great human virtues’ at its corners: beauty, good will, truth, and openness. It’s a ‘sourcebook of spells’ that have the power to ‘carry you into that place of the heart from which true language comes.’

By Paul Matthews,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sing Me the Creation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is an inspirational workbook of creative writing exercises for poets and teachers, and for all who wish to develop the life of the imagination. Paul Mathews gives us permission to indulge our fantasy, and then, when that life is flowing, provides the tools to craft it into poetry and song. There are over 300 exercises for improving writing skills, for self study. They are also ideally suited for group work with adults. Teachers will find these exercises popular with students.


Book cover of Several Short Sentences about Writing

Mike Errico Author Of Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter

From my list on non-songwriting books for songwriters.

Why am I passionate about this?

People come to songwriting from all different directions. Some have wanted to do this since they were little kids. Some like to make their parents mad. Some are wildly talented but crippled with doubt. All I can say is that no matter which way you’re facing, I think I can help you. I say this because I’ve been teaching college-level songwriting for years now, and every semester I have students who want to meet with me for office hours. They’re all repeat customers and I’ve noticed that many of them ask repeat questions. The point of my book, Music, Lyrics, and Life, is to try to address those repeat questions because chances are good that you have them, too. 

Mike's book list on non-songwriting books for songwriters

Mike Errico Why did Mike love this book?

Do not come to this book in search of warm hugs about the beauty of the process. True to the title, Klinkenborg (best name ever?) offsets each of his sentences like an epic poem in verse. The epic he describes is how epically bad your writing is, and—hopefully—how to improve. He returns to the word "notice" over and over, and that's really it. You're blowing sentences by not noticing what the sentence itself is doing. You're over-emphasizing "meaning" at the expense of the vehicle that delivers it. I sense there's a kind man in there, somewhere, who's working a side of the street he feels has been neglected by years of misguided education. But here, he's dedicated to the larger cause of clean, clear sentences. Not hugs.

By Verlyn Klinkenborg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Several Short Sentences about Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An indispensable and distinctive book that will help anyone who wants to write, write better, or have a clearer understanding of what it means for them to be writing, from widely admired writer and teacher Verlyn Klinkenborg.
 
Klinkenborg believes that most of our received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but an obstacle to our ability to write. In Several Short Sentences About Writing, he sets out to help us unlearn that “wisdom”—about genius, about creativity, about writer’s block, topic sentences, and outline—and understand that writing is just as much about thinking, noticing, and learning what it…


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